4 by Agnes Varda Agnes Varda, a key director of the French Wave, never belonged to the group proper. By her own admission she had seen less than two dozen films before she embarked on her own first feature, La Pointe Courte (1954), a study of a marriage on the rocks starring Silvia Monfort and Philippe Noiret. Instead she remained – and remains – happily on the fringe following her own muse and defying expectations with glee. Her debut feature debuts on DVD in new Criterion box set 4 by Agnes Varda, along with three of her best and most well known features. From the easy rhythms and delicate naturalism of Cleo From 5 to 7 (1961), her first critical success, to the rosy romanticism of the controversial Le Bonheur (1965) to the harsh beauty and alienation of Vagabond (1985), Varda shows herself a hard director to peg. Where Cleo, the story of a ninety minutes in the life of a flighty pop singer (Corinne Marchand) as she awaits the results of a cancer test, gives us rounded, vivid characters in the bustling real world of Paris, Le Bonheur, a lovely tale of a tragic love triangle, offers archetypes in a sun-drenched Eden, an impossibly idyllic world where even tragedy is transformed into a happy ending. The immediacy of Cleo becomes distanced in Le Bonheur and reaches its apex in Vagabond, where Varda’s removed observations chart (in flashback) the lives touched on by Sandrine Bonnaire’s drifter, who seems incapable of actually connecting with anything around her. Where Cleo suddenly clings to the life she sees with different eyes while awaiting news of her cancer test results, Bonnaire’s vagabond seems to skip along the surface, alienated from everything and everyone around her. Even the playful techniques so effective in Cleo (intertitles marking off and punctuating the scenes) and Le Bonheur (flashcuts, out of focus portraits, visual wordplays) are stripped away for the sobering drama of Vagabond. What ties these films together is a richness of detail and a consistency of style – a compelling form created for each individual film.
It’s featured on my MSN DVD column, along with other highlights this week. The John Frankenheimer Collection offer the DVD debuts of The Young Savages and The Train along with previously released discs The Manchurian Candidate and Ronin.
“The Young Savages” (1961), his sophomore theatrical feature, is a social drama produced by and starring Burt Lancaster as a passionate district attorney who investigates the racially charged murder of a blind Puerto Rican gang member by three Italian teens. Lancaster also produces and stars in the World War II resistance drama “The Train” (1965), a gritty, vividly directed thriller about a resistance leader (Lancaster) who reluctantly risks his agents and civilian hostages to stop a Nazi officer (Paul Scofield) from looting French art treasures during the German retreat from France.
A young, scrappy Richard Harris stars as a miner turned rugby player in the feature debut of Lindsay Anderson, a harsh and searing drama of a man who finds his expression on the rugby field, where he becomes a brutish gladiator. Rachel Roberts co-stars as his landlady, a repressed widow with whom he’s in love but doesn’t know how to show his feelings. The film, which is now considered an early landmark of Britain’s “kitchen sink” movement of social realism and working-class poetry, was a commercial failure in Britain but found success in the United States, where the two stars were nominated for Oscars.
The best of the TV offerings this week are all from Britain, toplined by Torchwood: The Complete First Season:
A spin-off of the BBC’s rebooted “Doctor Who,” Russell T. Davies’ sci-fi lark plays like a high-energy goof on “X-Files,” featuring a British special-cases squad of young agents with more energy than experience and a high-tech equipment locker that has everything but an instructions booklet…. It’s a colorful series on a cable budget that struggles to find its balance of charged mystery and cheeky attitude through the high-concept adventures: alien viruses, rampaging giant monsters, rips in the space-time continuum. You know, the usual things that happen when you live and work on a rift in time and space (that’s a secret sure to bring down property value in Cardiff). More intriguing is the tension that splinters the group through the course of the season, and the unexpected revelations of Harkness’ vague past and concealed identity in the final episodes.
Also new this week: Hustle: The Complete Season Four, Extras: The Complete Series (which includes the DVD debut of the “Extra Special Finale”), and the repackaged Thunderbirds: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition Megaset in a thinpak box set.
You can access my DVD column here.